[op-ed snap] Rich farmers will gain the most from MSP hikes

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Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Issues related to direct & indirect farm subsidies & minimum support prices

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  NSSO stats on Farmers Income

Mains level: The newscard highlights very important issues with MSP and its associated beneficiaries. It broadly fails to benefit the marginal farmers, agricultural and urban labourers who are far outnumbered.


Context

  1. The common narrative about the hike in minimum support prices (MSPs) for farm produce is that farmers will benefit.
  2. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana are different from their brethren in Bihar and West Bengal or the north-east.
  3. We have small farmers, marginal farmers, peasants and kulaks and landlords. And its Target beneficiaries are not the needy. Let’s see how.

A 2013 NSSO Report has some clue

  1. A National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report that mapped the income, expenditure and indebtedness of agricultural households in India in 2013 provides some clues.
  2. For households owning farms of less than 0.4 hectares, who are a 1/3rd of all agricultural households, net receipts from cultivation account for less than 1/6th of income.
  3. They will certainly not benefit from higher MSPs as their sole bread and butter is not only cultivation.
  4. For those holding between 0.4 and 1 hectare, net receipts from cultivation are around 2/5th of their earnings. This class constitutes another 1/3rd of all farming households.

Broad inference from this Report

  1. Taken together, farmers owning up to 1 hectare of land constitute 69.4% of total agricultural households.
  2. The report finds their monthly consumption expenditure is higher than their earnings from all sources, which means they are chronically in debt.
  3. Many rely on moneylenders, rich farmers and landlords to advance them the money needed for cultivation and they are often forced to sell their produce to these financiers at lower than market prices.
  4. In short, almost 70% of farming households are unlikely to be beneficiaries of the MSP hike.

Small and Big Farmers to get benefits

  1. Those having more than 4 hectares of land, a mere 4.1% of the farming population, get more than three quarters of their net income from cultivation.
  2. It is the rural rich, rural India’s ruling class, who pay no income taxes, who gain the maximum benefit from farm loan waivers, who will reap the bonanza from higher MSPs.

What Shanta Kumar Committee Report has to say?

  1. The revelations of the Shanta Kumar Committee report underscored that fact. It found that a mere 5.8% of agricultural households in India had sold paddy or wheat to any procurement agency.
  2. Even these households sold only a part of their total sales, ranging from 14-35% for different crops, at MSP.
  3. The upshot of this entire evidence is that the direct benefits of procurement operations in wheat and rice, with which FCI (Food Corporation of India) is primarily entrusted, goes to a minuscule of agricultural households in the country.
  4. Obviously then, much of the procurement that government agencies undertake comes from larger farmers, and in a few selected states (Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and lately from Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh).

Who are the losers from the government’s move?

  1. Economists’ estimates of the impact on inflation as a result of higher MSPs vary, but all agree that inflation will go up significantly, particularly if the government steps up its procurement.
  2. An IMF working paper said the disinflation in 2014-16 owed much to the government’s rationalization of MSPs. If that is correct, conversely, the sharp rise in MSPs now will fuel inflation.

Who loses the most from high inflation?

  1. The urban poor will be badly affected, of course, but also agricultural labourers, the most vulnerable class.
  2. Agricultural labourers now outnumber cultivators. Further, the marginal farmers may also not produce enough food for their requirements and have to buy from the market.

Benefiting the rural rich at the expense of the masses

  1. And that’s not even counting the price the economy will have to pay due to higher interest rates, uncompetitive agricultural prices, a bloated fiscal deficit and skewed incentives.
  2. That is why it is very likely that only lip service will be paid to the MSP hikes and it will be business as usual.

Way Forward

  1. If the objective is alleviation of rural distress, the Telangana government’s programme of income transfers looks far more promising.
  2. But in the long run, there is no alternative to creating enough jobs outside agriculture to absorb the disguised unemployment in farming.
Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Produce
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